Sunday, July 8, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Americans, Including Solar-Powered Americans, Grade Their Utilities (Infographic)

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 11:36 AM PDT

Here’s an interesting little infographic from the folks at 1BOG, based on a 1BOG poll about electric consumers’ opinions of their utilities. Enjoy.

Home Solar Power Discounts – One Block Off the Grid

Biolite Stove for Wilderness Heat and Electricity?

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 11:18 AM PDT

Power and control module for the BioLite Stove

BioLite has been developing solid-fueled stoves with an unusual thermoelectric technology for several years. The camp stove, which started shipping in June, creates the ideal conditions to burn any local biofuel, rather than having to carry in a petrochemical-based fuel. While not designed for mystical caves, the pastel beauty of deserts, or snow-bound wonderlands with no usable vegetation. it is a perfect companion for a hike in the woods.

Quick Overview

  • Weight: 2lb 1oz.
  • Fuel: solid biomass may be sourced locally but fire-starter sticks (provided) make a quick start.
  • Heat shield and P & C module as handle makes it possible to move stove without being burned.
  • A small percentage of the heat is used to power ventilate and swirl the combustion gases for a complete burn.
  • A thermoelectric generator (TEG) produces electricity from the heat of the fire.
  • A non-replaceable lithium-ion battery backs up the TEG.
  • Pot weight limit: about 8 lbs. Pot must be removed to add more fuel.
  • A USB port for power/charging devices.
  • Cost: $129. USD direct, new orders, shipping by mid July.

Solid Fuel vs Liquid Fuel

For several decades, campers have been using petrochemical-fueled stoves. They pack in fuel containers and pack them out again. They are reasonably economical, and it takes almost no attention to light and maintain a fire for the needed meal.

In contrast, most of the YouTube reviewers of the BioLite stove seem so excited with the unusual device that they decided to skip reading the directions. Many of them also seemed somewhat unfamiliar with starting and operating a solid fuel (wood) fire.

In fairness, the device is an intriguing blend of technologies and in about the same sized package as the petrochemical stoves. But it is not the same. Wood fires differ from liquid fuels. The moisture content of the wood has to be driven off by heat and this affects how the fire burns. Hardwood, the best choice, offers fewer sparks, with hotter fires that last longer. A liquid-fueled fire automatically mixes air and fuel. The size and shape and packing of the wood is important to getting a good mixture of air and solid fuel. Too little air or circulation will make the fire smoke, a sign of incomplete burning. The maximum size fuel for the BioLite stove seems to be about as thick as a pinky finger and as long as a dollar bill. The forced airflow of the BioLite stove makes the process of a wood fire hotter, much easier, and more efficient.

Reviewers have remarked that there is very little ash left in the unit or soot on the pots. Enough air can get into the unit to start a small fire easily protected from any wind, but the initial smoke is a sign of inefficient burning. The burner shape alone does not allow enough airflow. The fan is required. And the technological trick is that this electrically operated fan does not need batteries.

The Thermoelectric Generator

The TEG is in the power and control module. A probe inserted into the flame conducts heat to the unit, which by the magic of electronics becomes DC voltage. The science has been described by Seebeck, Peliter and Thompson, or called simply the thermoelectric effect. It is a direct (solid-state) conversion from heat to electricity.

This gives the unit power for the fan that makes the unit more efficient. A USB charging port is an added bonus. As reported in the following video, there are similar fan-powered biostoves on the market that require batteries, but here the TEG eliminates the batteries.

Eyes on the Fire

Sometimes we praise technology for the freedom it gives us (liquid-fueled stoves). Here, we have to love the experience of feeding the fire. The stove needs attention to balance the fan speed and the amount of fuel. Smoke and lack of fuel are signs that attention is required.

The challenge will be to start the stove and not have to remove the pot and add more fuel before the meal is finished cooking. For those raised on the “plug and play” simplicity of a liquid-fuel stove, the BioLite offers a test of proficiency that should become a point of pride.

But it is not a campfire. It is a stove. It is designed to concentrate a small amount of heat in a pot for the relatively short time it takes to cook dinner. For camping, this is sometimes reduced to the time it takes to boil water — about 5 minutes for 2 cups of water. The device brings amazing technology into the hands of people who truly appreciate what it can do and are likely to spend the $129 USD asking price.

Electricity for USB

USB charging in the wilds is an idea we will certainly see more and more frequently, but charging devices typically requires a bit longer than the time to cook a meal. In a pinch, the stove might be used to power an LED light, charge your GPS (charge time up to 4 hrs), charge your batteries (4 hrs), power a SteriPEN Freedom UV water purifier, charge your phone, etc.

But, for everyday use, the attention and time required makes this a fun stove but an inefficient generator. The USB port seems a trendy gimmick with the real prize being an efficient wood burner that does not need batteries. It is a nicely built, solid stove that doesn’t use petrochemicals. However, you still may not want to give up on the solar-charging backpack.

Note: The Company has not responded to requests for further information.

Photo Credit: BreathontheWind via Flickr, used with permission.

New York City vs Heiden — A Solar City Comparison

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 10:14 AM PDT

Earlier this year, New York City reached a total of 8.4 MW of installed solar capacity. This meant that the most populous city of the US had accomplished its 2015 goal set by the "Solar America City" program back in 2008 three years early.

At about the same time the city government announced that the installed solar capacity on municipal buildings has been tripled to a total of 648kW. This was an occasion Mayor Bloomberg used to make the following statement in front of photographs of solar systems on buildings:

"In clean tech, New York City is leading by example and the solar projects we've completed will generate clean, affordable energy while cutting our carbon emissions and energy costs – goals that are central to our Administration's sustainability agenda, PlaNYC."

Both the news and announcement sure sound fantastic, don’t they? While I am all for celebrating the increase of renewable energy capacity, I also love putting things into perspective. When searching for proper perspective in the world of facts and figures, what’s better than a good old comparison?

Regular Cleantechnica readers and many others are properly well aware of the fact that New York City is a far cry from being a leader in solar energy generation. Looking across the Hudson River to what's happening in the state of New Jersey would be enough to make this reality clear and obvious, but that comparison would still fall short in terms of showing what's possible today.

The Unequal Solar City Comparison

To make that point I will compare New York City with a tiny little town in Germany that you most definitely have never heard of, Heiden. (I sure never heared of it up until recently.)

Heiden is situated in the picturesque Münsterland region in the most populous state of Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia. Why did I choose this city? Because, at first sight, nothing could be more ridicules than comparing a metropolis like New York with a small city that has just 0.1% of the population and 6% of the land area.

Another reason why I chose Heiden is the fact that the tiny city is a relatively unknown veteran of the "Small Town Energy Revolution" that is democratizing the energy supply throughout Germany. Heiden scored 670 points in the 2012 season of the "Solarbundesliga," the "Solar National League" in which municipalities from all over Germany compete. This was enough to make Heiden the #1 community on its state level and #125 on the national level.

So, how does a German state champion with 0.1% of the population of NYC compare to the Big Apple?

Let me put it this way: It's not only a ridiculous comparison due to the population difference, but it's also unfair because, unlike New York City, Heiden is actually trying to do its best.

As you can see, the citizens of Heiden beat the good people of New York City with 12.2 MW compared to 8.4 MW. To my knowledge, Heiden managed to achieve this without having a solar park outside town. That means that those 12.2 MW of solar capacity come from solar systems on homes, public buildings, businesses, and farm buildings.

The Moral of the Story

As this little comparison has shown, New York is most definitely not leading by example yet. That said, the good news is that there is a huge untapped potential in the city for a lot more solar power that's longing to be utilized. I am sure that the citizens of New York would love to surpass Heiden in absolute terms as soon as possible, and I am certain that they will… one day.

If the city government were really serious about helping its citizens to achieve that goal, it would do away with arbitrary caps and quaint regulations that stand in the way of a rapid increase in solar capacity. With today's solar technology, getting more solar on the grid would not even require any form of tax incentives and could actually lower peak load electricity prices for everybody.

This could happen if local and state government officials would show the political will to cut the red tape that blocks independent power producers from selling their surplus power on the grid without having to ask and beg for market access.

Totally Awesome Clean Energy & Climate Change Talks at Google: Mark Z. Jacobson, Mark Ruffalo, & Marco Krapels

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 10:00 AM PDT

Marco Krapels, one of the tremendous speakers in this video, is actually the person who shared this video below with me — huge thanks to Marco. The video covers some of the most important research on clean, renewable energy; energy, in general; electric vehicles; and climate change (a bit).

I’m sure you all know who Mark Ruffalo is (the Hulk, or the actor playing the Hulk, and many other characters). Mark Jacobson should be a familiar name to many long-time renewable energy followers — he coauthored the great piece in Scientific American a few years ago showing that we could fully power the world with renewable energy technology we have today. And, basically, he’s one of the top (or even the top) researcher on the topic today.

Marco, who I wasn’t familiar with before, actually really impressed me in his portion of the event and in the Q&A section at the end. He’s a leader in the banking field, but his comments on our policy needs and awareness-raising needs were surprisingly impressive, well-pointed (sorry, Marco, if you are checking in here, you know what the stigma of heads of banking is :D — I will try not to be so prejudiced in the future).

Here’s the video, a true must-watch, in my opinion. Following the video is a little more text on the speakers and the overall discussion:

From the YouTube page:

Global warming, environmental pollution, and energy insecurity are three of the most significant problems facing the world today. This talk discusses a technical plan to solve these problems by powering 100% of the United States’ and world’s energy for all purposes, including electricity, transportation, industry, and heating/cooling, with wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) within 20-40 years. As part of the plan, we consider transmission infrastructure, resources, reliability, catastrophic risk, materials, costs, health effects, job creation, revenue streams, and policies needed. We discuss a detailed version of the plan for New York State and its potential application to California and other states. We also discuss the public engagement needed and how social media can help to implement the plan on the state, national, and international levels.

About the Speakers:

Mark A. Ruffalo is an Oscar-nominated actor and advocate of addressing climate change and renewable energy. In March 2011, Mark co-founded Water Defense to raise awareness about energy extraction impact on water and the public health. A regular contributor to the Guardian and the Huffington Post, Mark is a recent recipient of the Global Green Millennium Award for Environmental Leadership, and the Meera Gandhi Giving Back Foundation Award. He was named one of Time Magazine’s “People Who Mattered” in 2011. Most recently, he played Dr. Banner and the Incredible Hulk in the box-office hit, The Avengers.

Marco Krapels is the Executive Vice President of Rabobank N.A,,where he runs the commercial banking product groups including its capital markets and renewable energy finance divisions. He co-chairs the bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) committee, where he’s initiated notable sustainability efforts, including a Rabobank solar/Tesla electric car project featured in the New York Times. Marco is co-founder and board member of Empowered by Light, which promotes renewable energy solutions for 1.6 billion people living without electricity.

Mark Z. Jacobson is Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. He is also a Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment and Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy. He is on the Energy Efficiency and Renewables Advisory Committee to the U.S. Secretary of Energy. He co-authored a 2009 cover article in Scientific American and two more recent articles in Energy Policy with Dr. Mark DeLucchi of U.C. Davis on how to power the world with renewable energy.

Ethical Business: Are Companies Actively Avoiding the Green Way?

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 09:56 AM PDT


Here’s an interesting guest post, more of a reflective piece, on the greening (or, in some cases, non-greening) of businesses. Worth a read, I think:

There have been a lot of interesting shifts in the way that people think about their lives. As technology and education improves, so too does the average person’s understanding of key issues facing the livelihood of themselves, their job, and the world at large. While individual people tend to focus on their personal health and fitness or their money-saving ethic, businesses are only really concerned with the latter — and are fighting the after-effects of the recession in markedly different ways. However, the old approach to prosperity is dying out, with a new generation of clued-up people with greater demands.

There are two schools of thought that have grown in different directions, moving from the basic principle that a company needs to buy everything at the lowest price possible and sell it at the highest margin. The older logic is to cut costs at every possible opportunity; whether it’s keeping the smallest team possible, outsourcing less important tasks to another company (often in another country), or buying lower-quality materials — this approach is becoming outdated, and fast.

With the rise of internet shopping and consumer power, comes the need to produce better-quality items, using renewable processes that appeal to the inner guilt over their environmental impact (which many people have developed). While bigger corporations that adopt older logic have implemented a handful of measures to promote their renewable and eco-friendly approach — recycled packaging, for instance — the core of the large majority of these companies’ operations is still stuck in the past, and buyer-led feedback will always catch these companies out; such is the nature of the Freedom of Information Act.

Many new companies, however, particularly those working in digital industries, have had the benefit of new systems and improved corporate ethics, which has put them ahead of the established market leaders. Building “an office” and associated operations from scratch is now not only cheaper, but also more eco-friendly, than ever before, and the adoption of the soon-to-be listed provisions has not only made them more streamlined and efficient, but also helped them appeal to an increasing tech-savvy general public. It will be these factors that will ultimately decide the future of business — and waiting too long to adopt them could be disastrous not only for the environment, but a business’ livelihood.

Cloud computing and digital storage

One of the keys to running profitably as a business is to minimise utility bills, maintenance costs and large initial investments. Older companies still run huge warehouses filled with servers, computing equipment, and hard drives to store the entire company’s documentation. However, the miniaturisation of technology has not only made these great big machines incredibly inefficient and bad for the environment, but largely pointless in an office space. By moving to the cloud with dedicated companies using class-leading green technology, the information needed by companies is only a click away — and without all those associated CO2 emissions.

Green outsourcing

A lot of companies may not run as cheaply as rivals in the Far East or Indian subcontinent, but due to widespread dissatisfaction from consumers who weren’t able to talk to  a citizen of their own country — or the lower quality associated with many products from outsourcing deals past — these domestically-based rivals are playing on the desire for ecologically-sound production processes. Whether it’s printing companies specialising in recycled flyers (like Flyerzone) or supermarkets that pride themselves on Fairtrade products (such as the Co-Operative), they can make a business much more appealing in the eyes of the public.

New, low-footprint technology

Smartphones and tablets are fast becoming the new way for businesses to operate and, with one charge, many are delivering extensive savings for companies that need results on the move. Much like the aforementioned backroom technologies, however, it’s important to focus on ditching old systems and electronics that eat power (CRT monitors, huge photocopiers, older plasma TVs, fluorescent tube lighting) in favour of energy-efficient alternatives (flatscreens, smart copiers, LED TVs, LED lighting).

Renewable energy (the CleanTechnica specialty)

Less computing power means a smaller requirement for electricity. Adding on to that, to offset emissions to the greatest degree — and appeal to the masses — it could be worth diverting saved money into renewable energy for an office. Solar panels and wind energy can often supply an entire business with electricity, if used and installed properly, or can simply help reduce dependence on the grid. What’s more, in many places, feed-in tariffs or low solar prices can even earn a company money!

Image Credit: green business image via Shutterstock

Green Economy Has Changed National Politics: Close-up on West Virginia & Virginia

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 04:00 AM PDT

clean economy jobs map

Politics and political allegiances change with time. With the current clean energy revolution (still nascent, but growing fast), this powerful (no pun intended) sector is influencing politics quite a bit… or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that what politicians and industry do with this revolution is influencing politics.

Scott Cooney of sister site The Inspired Economisthad a great post the other day on how the clean economy seems to be changing politics in West Virginia and Virginia (in opposite ways). It’s a really interesting read, so I’d recommend checking it out: The Green Economy has changed national politics: Virginia and West Virginia case studies.

Solar Power Revolution (VIDEO)

Posted: 08 Jul 2012 02:00 AM PDT

This is a great video Thomas recently passed on to me. Worth a watch, but ~40 minutes long, so you probably need to set aside some time for it. The whole video is great, but one note at the beginning was rather interesting to me — we are still “hunter-gatherers” in the field of energy. We still go out and collect the fuel we need to run our power plants and vehicles. Why not use the solar, wind, and water energy right in front of us? Duh.

The video (from a couple years ago) discusses solar around the world, but it also gives some detail on how the German solar energy revolution came about (mostly through the man Hermann Scheer).

Anyway, the whole video is worth a watch:

Navy 2, Congress 0 in Biofuel Cage Match

Posted: 07 Jul 2012 11:00 PM PDT

$420 in matching grants for 3 military biofuels

The U.S. Navy appears to be steamrolling easily over a Republican-led effort to quash its biofuel initiatives. Early last week, the Obama administration announced a Navy-supported $62 million biofuel research program, and it followed up a few days later with another $420 million effort by the Department of Defense to build not one but three biofuel refineries for military aircraft and vessels. Together, these programs will help lower the cost and raise the availability of biofuels for both the military and civilian markets.

More and Cheaper Biofuel

The two announcements come after a months-long battle that culminated in a Congressional ban on biofuel purchases by the Department of Defense, at least until the price of biofuel becomes competitive with conventional fossil fuels.

The $62 million initiative is designed to dodge that maneuver by focusing on foundational research and demonstration-scale projects that will help speed up the development of cheaper, more efficient ways to produce biofuels, hastening the day when the price will drop to or below fossil fuel prices.

The new $420 million biofuel program, as reported by Reuters, involves $210 million in matching federal funds for private companies to build three large-scale biorefineries, each with a capacity of at least 10 million gallons per year.

That initiative apparently circumvents another Congressional mandate promoted by Senator John McCain (ironically, an ex-Navy man), that banned the Department of Defense from building its own biorefineries.

The U.S. Navy and Alternative Fuels

The Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Army have also been transitioning to alternative fuels, but the U.S. Navy has been taking almost all of the heat from members of Congress (yes, primarily Republicans) who are opposed to the Navy’s strategy of helping to bring down the price of biofuel through its potential for large-scale purchasing.

Part of the attention is due to year-long publicity leading up to the launch of the Navy’s new Green Strike Group in a huge multinational, competitive maritime exercise called the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). The Green Strike Group is anchored by a nuclear carrier but other ships and aircraft in the group are powered with the help of a 50-50 biofuel blend.

In addition, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for the interrelationship of biofuels, energy security and greenhouse gas management as they relate to national security.

Mabus also has a knack for positioning military biofuels within the historical timeline of U.S. innovation, especially as applied to the Navy. In a biofuel conference call with reporters late last year, Mabus stated:

“…Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security and to the U.S. Navy’s ability to protect America and to project power overseas…In history, Navy has always led in changing fuel types. We went from sail to coal in the 1850s. We went from coal to oil in the early part of the 20th century, and we pioneered nuclear in the 1950s.”

Green Fuels, Green Jobs

In the same conference call, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack described USDA programs that support the development of low cost, drop in biofuels for the Department of Defense (and of course, the civilian world, too) along with support for farmers growing biofuel crops.

That includes USDA loans for two biorefineries in 2011 with more to come this year, new “virtural” research centers, public-private research efforts partnering Agricultural Research Service scientists with the biofuel industry, and Forest Service research initiatives.

In addition, the USDA’s Crop Management and Crop Insurance Program is moving forward on plans to provide insurance for biofuel crops.

What this all amounts to, according to Vilsack, is not only an end-run around Congress but also “tremendous job creating opportunities inherent in every single one of these steps.”

In that regard, if you’re looking at the latest national jobs report and wondering why things aren’t picking up any faster, just consider how much energy members of Congress (again, primarily Republican representatives) have been spending to crush the U.S. biofuel industry, to say nothing of their lack of support for the U.S. wind industry and the stinkeye they have been casting on the U.S. solar industry. It’s almost like they want the U.S. industrial sector to fail.


Image: Some rights reserved by USDAgov.

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